November 24, 2013
Improv to Improve Idea Generation

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It can be said that a brainstorm facilitator plays many roles during the course of a session. Conductor, diamond cutter, and traffic cop are three of them. But the most obvious role is that of actor, and not just any kind of actor, because there really isn't a set script... but an improv actor making theater magic out of a specific "situation" or "set-up".

In both brainstorm facilitation and improvisational theater, you're trying to tap the creative imagination of people in order to create something new. In both, you need to loosen up the habitual thinking and behaviors of the "audience" so they become more than just passive observers, but active participants.

And it is the right use of technique that helps with this transformation.

One of the most powerful techniques is Groundrule #1 of Improv Theater -- Say Yes!

Say Yes! means that you immediately accept, without judgment, whatever is being offered to you by a fellow actor.

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In Improv Theater, for example, if someone says "Hey! Look at that enormous pink elephant!" your response should be something along the lines of "Wow, that's the biggest pink elephant I've ever seen. Are those real diamonds on that tutu or just rhinestones?" -- a response that takes the basic premise and expands on it.

Conversely, if you're going to be a good improv partner, your response to your fellow actor's opening premise should not be "That's not a pink elephant! You must be drunk."

The first, receptive response opens up many possibilities. The second, dismissive response abruptly ends the scene or turns it into a tug of war between the two actors -- both of whom now become competitors and opponents instead of allies and co-conspirators.

When it comes to idea generation, experimenting with Improv Groundrule #1 can produce excellent results.

For example, a good brainstorming technique that generates a lot of good ideas quickly is a technique called "Yes, and..."

Here's how it works:

Imagine, if you will, that you are sitting in a circle of 6-8 people. You call on one person to come up with a new idea in response to a challenge or problem. Then, you ask the person sitting next to the first person to build on the initial idea by saying "Yes, and..." Then, you ask a third person to build on the second idea, beginning with "Yes, and..." -- continuing around the circle for as long as the process generates interesting content and ideas.

Even better, start with what you know is already an intriguing idea, perhaps something generated earlier in the brainstorm session, re-state it for the group, and ask someone to build on it using the "Yes, and..." technique.

You can run several rounds of this technique for the same challenge. Each time the technique will take you in a different conceptual direction.

Try it with many different challenges. Change the direction of the order within the group -- clockwise, counterclockwise, random, etc.

"Yes, and..." is fun, simple, and can quickly spark a lot of intriguing, new ideas. It will also sharpen everyone's improvisational acting skills in the process.

-- Val Vadeboncoeur

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at November 24, 2013 01:08 AM

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